[YC126 NECWC} Just One Quick Score

“Hello?” The communications array on Kevin’s capsule crackled with subspace distortion as he trasmitted to the local band. “Is there…is there anyone out there?”

It was not supposed to end this way.

…two days earlier…

Jitatrader6969 laid back on the bed they shared at Dodixie IX - Moon 20 - Federation Navy Assembly Plant. He kicked the tangle of sweat soaked sheets onto the floor and stretched out his lean, muscular body. He smiled languidly and adjusted his monocle, the blue starlight filtering through the window of their captain’s quarters glinting from the glass like a flash of plasma. He sighed contentedly.

Kevin curled up against his partner, caressing the smooth, hard muscles of his abdomen gently. He felt warm and raw in post-coital bliss, but a thread of nagging worry wouldn’t let him go.

“This is going to work, right?” he asked for the hundredth time.

Jitatrader6969 chuckled warmly. It was easy for him to be confident. He came from a family of wealthy merchants. Even if the plan failed, he would land on his feet. Kevin’s parents were common laborers. He had only attended the Federal Navy Academy on a wiffleball scholarship. In short, he had much more to lose.

“Relax, my dear,” Jitatrader6969 said. “Soon we’ll be sitting In a luxury penthouse in Jita 4-4, sipping Caldarian brandy and watching our wallets grow. We just need a little startup capital. Just one easy score, and we’ll be swimming in kredits.” He grinned.

Kevin smiled too. He couldn’t help but worry a little, but Jitatrader6969’s confidence was infectious.

The next day they undocked in two Venture class frigates and warped away. Jitatrader6969 whooped with joy across their private band. “Wooo, here we go!”

“You know it, buddy!” Kevin said.

He had flown spaceships before in the Academy, but this was really it. Their first adventure as real capsuleers, on their own, seeking their fortune in the vastness of space. The stars twinkled a little brighter that day, as the twin mining frigates jumped out of Dodixie.

“Okay, time to probe,” he said when they had found a quiet system. As Jitatrader6969 orbited him, Kevin launched a constellation of core scanner probes, just as he had been trained in the Exploration Career Path course. After a certain amount of adjustment and scanning, and readjustment, and more scanning, he finally got a lock on a wormhole signature.

When they arrived on grid, the hole looked much the same as those he had viewed in the simulator - a bulbous and strangely colored spatial distortion, throbbing in tune to some cosmic rhythym.

“I guess this is it,” Kevin said, that thread of nagging anxiety worming into his liver again.

“This is it, my dear,” Jitatrader6969 said cheerfully. He was still confident, at least. “Just one quick score!”

Kevin forced a grin. “Just one quick score,” he echoed. Activating his impulse engines, he flew into the wormhole.

The two dear friends entered Anoikis.

Everything was different there. The familiar stars of New Eden were replaced by others, sparking mysteriously. The system they were in had a red sun, glaring crimson off the hull of Jitatrader6969’s Venture as it dropped into normal space beside him. The absence of familiar chatter on the local communications band felt like a heavy, oppressive silence. Kevin’s directional scanner picked up the signatures of deactivated starbase control towers, the last traces of those who had come to this place before and, in hubris, perhaps, had attempted to settle there for a time. What had happened to them? Kevin wondered about their stories.

“Looks like a C2, according to my charts,* Jitatrader6969’s voice crackled across the private band. “See if you can find another hole. The best gas is in high class space.”

“Are you sure, buddy?” Kevin asked. “What about the cartels?” Everyone knew that many high class wormhole systems were claimed by unregulated capsuleer cartels, who jealousy guarded their resources with powerful warships.

“My dear, these Ventures have internal warp core stabilization. There’s no way anyone can catch us. That’s the beauty of this plan. We get in, we take the gas, we get out. Right under the noses of the wormhole cartels.” Jitatrader6969 laughed smugly. Kevin could imagine him adjusting his monocle, a deep smirk lining his cheek. “Just one easy score, and we’ll have enough isk to start our trade empire.”

“Just one easy score,” Kevin repeated like a mantra. He deployed his probes.

A few jumps later, the two friends found what they had been looking for. A Vast Frontier Reservoir, rich with high-test fullerenes. They activated their gas scoops and closed in on the lucrative cloud. There was nothing on d-scan. No signs of habitation whatsoever. Kevin began to let go of his worries.

This was really going to work. As he watched his mining hold fill with valuable gas, Kevin couldn’t help but be aware that even a single unit would be enough to take care of his family for life. By the time their holds were full, they would have more than enough to start the trade empire they had planned. It would be smooth sailing from there on out. No more undocking, no more risks, just pure profits. The cash register sounds just kept cha-chinging in his head every time his gas scoops cycled.

“Well, I’ll say this, my dear. We certainly can’t complain about the view,” Jitatrader6969 crackled.

Kevin glanced about. The camera drones orbiting his craft transmitted a visual feed to his ocular implants, making it seem as if he was viewing his own ship in space. The system they had chosen had a black hole. The sight was certainly remarkable. He had never been so close to a singularity before, but Kevin only glanced at it for an instant. “I really think we should be keeping our eyes on d-scan, buddy,” he said.

“Oh come now,” Jitatrader6969 said. “Where’s your spirit of adventure? Just look at where we are! Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses, my dear.”

Kevin sighed. Jitatrader6969 was right. He really needed to relax.

The black hole really was a sight to behold. The event horizon, far from the unblinking circle of nothingness that ancient astronomers had imagined, was illuminated by pulsing fronds of spaghettified matter, spreading out into a great cloud of red and yellow gases, waving arms of charged particles.It looked like nothing so much as a great poppy flower, waving in the breeze of some pleasant, temperate world.

“It really is something,” he said. “I think-”

Kevin’s lips froze, trembling. They were not alone. The last ripples of a deactivating cloak dissipated upon the sleek black hull of a Loki class strategic cruiser. The ship’s identification transponder named the pilot on Kevin’s display - Syeed Ameer Ali.

“I thought he was dead…” Kevin whispered. It was a name out of black legend. Syeed Ameer Ali, the Conqueror of Bereye, the Terror of MJ-5F9, the last of the Belligerent Undesirables. Classes were taught about him at the Academy. Millions had died at his hand. And now he was here, with them.

Kevin had no time to ponder the situation. Huge missiles streaked from the cruiser. Kevin heard only a screech across the private band before they slammed into the side of Jitatrader6969’s Venture. The vacuum of space echoed with the thunderous clap of his friend’s exploding warp core. Kevin’s ship vibrated as His shields were peppered with high velocity debris. His eyes rolled in panic as he watched his partner’s pod cracked open like an egg. Pale limbs reflexively contracted as they spilled out into space.

“Ok, think think,” he said, his voice cracking with fear. “Align!” he shouted. Because of the nature of the capsuleer interface that neurally linked him to his ship, it was not actually necessary to verbalize commands, but that did not occur to Kevin right at that moment. “Warp! Warp!” he screeched.

Two red circles on his HUD indicated that two warp scramblers were pinning him down. Kevin could not warp.

There was a flash of light, and a brief but intense pressure as his reactive pod goo shielded him from the g-forces of his capsule ejecting from his exploding frigate. Then he floated in his pod amidst the debris field.

The dark strategic cruiser swooped across his field of vision. His overview showed a yellow box around Syeed, indicating that he was being targeted. And then the pirate was gone, in a brief ripple of spatial distortion as he activated his cloaking device.

Kevin floated among the wreckage. When his heartrate calmed, he knew on an intellectual level that Jitatrader6969 was fine. He would have been awakening in the clone vats of Dodixie at that very moment. He was a capsuleer. All he had to do to rejoin his partner was to initiate the self destruct sequence.

But Kevin was a new capsuleer. He had never died before.

Would there be pain? Would he feel the vacuum of space on his tender flesh?

He looked again at the black hole. How had he ever thought that it looked like a flower? It was the all consuming mouth of a horrible cosmic lamprey, rows upon rows of needlelike, circular teeth around the all-consuming maw of the event horizon. Pulling, pulling him down. A severed arm floated across his field of view, it’s fingers still twitching.

“Hello?” The communications array on Kevin’s capsule crackled with subspace distortion as he trasmitted to the local band. “Is there…is there anyone out there?”

It was not supposed to end this way.

His shoulders shook. His tears mingled with saline pod goo. When he looked up, the mail icon on his neocom was blinking. For a moment he didn’t understand. Who would be sending him mail? Kevin opened his inbox.

There was only a cryptic message from Syeed Ameer Ali.

It said, “gf”.

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